Spacious skies. Purple mountains. Amber waves of blow-dried hair. Salt Lake City has to be the most wholesome, corn-fed, clean-cut spot in all of middle America.
”Yeah, well, I’m fed up with it,” Ewan McGregor sneers in his bristly Scottish burr as he lights a smoke in a dingy trailer on the set of A Life Less Ordinary. ”There’s a paranoia and narrow-mindedness here that I find terrifying. They won’t even sell you cigarettes without an ID. And when people come to your house and they see beer or wine bottles lying around, God, you get filthy looks.”
Norman Rockwell, meet the Trainspotting boys, those iconoclastic auteurs who chased a psychedelic suppository down a toilet bowl and ended up making the biggest-grossing, most controversial English movie of 1996. On this crisp fall afternoon a year ago, the four lads from London — McGregor, 26, along with director Danny Boyle, 41, producer Andrew Macdonald, 31, and screenwriter John Hodge, 33 — find themselves deep in Mormon Country, shooting what sounds like their most shocking and brazen film to date: a mainstream romantic comedy featuring two of mainstream Hollywood’s fastest-rising stars.
Drug-free and without a single disgusting bathroom scene, Life is your basic boy-meets-girl, boy-kidnaps-girl love story, with a few kinky twists thrown in. McGregor — who’ll be brandishing a lightsaber as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the next Star Wars trilogy — stars as a luckless, just-fired janitor who haphazardly abducts his ex-boss’ daughter, a smart-mouthed deb played by Cameron Diaz — on a career roll since stealing Julia Roberts’ man in My Best Friend’s Wedding. There’s also Holly Hunter (The Piano) and Delroy Lindo (Get Shorty) as two whacked-out angels sent from heaven with orders to turn the unlikely pair into lovers by whatever means necessary — including gunplay, torture, and high-speed car chases.
Like Trainspotting, as well as their first film, 1994’s Shallow Grave, Life’s plotline involves a bag full of money — which turns out to be a pretty apt metaphor this time around. Produced by a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox) and paid for with major Hollywood bucks (well, only $12 million, but that’s a James Cameron-size bundle compared with Trainspotting’s $2.3 million budget), Life is the team’s first deliberate grab at an American box office breakthrough. And a rather audacious grab at that.
”You could call it an American-style movie if you want,” offers McGregor coolly. ”But really it only poses as a mainstream American movie. It only pretends to be a mainstream romantic comedy. It’s actually more of an attempt to beat you Americans at your own game.”
London. A few weeks before Life’s Oct. 24 premiere. Danny Boyle is strolling the streets of Soho, a quaintly cobblestoned quarter packed with cute little tourist traps peddling local delicacies like egg-and-crispy-bacon sandwiches. ”Let’s go this way so you can see one of the sex shops,” the director suggests, ducking into a dank alleyway. Only a few years ago, he explains, the neighborhood was teaming with peep shows, prostitutes, and junkies, but recently it’s been reborn as the city’s trendy cinema district, home to droves of thriving production houses.